Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Just A Cool Story

A friend sent me an email story.  It's probably one of those that goes around periodically, but I've been online since about 1990, and I haven't heard it.  A story about an incredible character doing outrageous things.  It's about Art Lacey and his Bomber Texaco station, which has been a landmark south of Portland, Oregon since 1947.
Story from KATU.com combined with the email version:  Art Lacey's daughter, Punky Scott, knows the story of her father's wild B-17 adventure well and recently sat down with KATU News to tell the famous tale. She said it all started at a party where her father, a local businessman, bragged that he was going to put a B-17 on top of his gas station.

"He was at his own birthday party in 1947 and he, I think, probably had a few adult beverages," Punky said with a laugh.

A friend promptly told Art he was absolutely out of his mind and could never pull it off. Art bet the man $5 he could do it and immediately ran with the idea."

And so he turns to his friend Bob and says 'You got any money on you Bob?' And Bob says 'Yeah, how much do you need?' (And my dad says) 'I need $15,000.' And the guy had it on him," Punky said. "I don't know how that translates into today's money, but it's got to be a lot."

So Art takes his 15,000 and goes to Oklahoma.  Makes friends with the officer in charge of the surplus B-17s and buys one.  He asked which one was his and they said take whichever you want because there were miles of them.  The first problem was that Art could fly a small plane, but didn't know how to fly a 4-engine B-17, so he read the manual while he taxied around by himself.  They said he couldn't take off alone so he put a mannequin in the co-pilot's seat and off he went.  Art might have been able to fake his way through it if the plane's landing gear didn't malfunction. He was trying to land back on the runway when he ran into trouble. "So he flew it around and finally he just had to bring it in. So he crash landed it and skidded in," said Punky. "He was flying it low and slow and skidded in and crashed it into another parked B-17."

Art wasn't hurt in the mishap but he did have to walk up to headquarters and admit that he really didn't know how to fly a B-17. Punky said the guy he talked to took pity on him.

"He turned to his secretary and said 'Have you written up the bill of sale yet on that B-17?' And she said 'No.' and he said 'Worst case of wind damage I've ever seen.' and replaced his B-17.

"So he called my mom and had her send down two of his friends," said Punky. "And one was the guy who had taught him to fly in the first place and the other one had been a crew chief on a B-17. And he told her to send them down with a case of whiskey."

The whiskey, Punky explained, was to be used to bribe the local fire department. Art didn't have any money left for gas and he wanted to use their fire truck pumps to siphon fuel out of the two crashed B-17s. Oklahoma was a dry state at the time and whiskey was a good enticement.

"And so that's what they did and they fueled up and took off the next morning," said Punky. "They flew to Palm Springs, California and then bought gas. But he didn't have the money for gas there either so he wrote a bad check for it and covered it when he got home."

Then they headed home for Oregon. They hit a snow storm and couldn't find their way, so they went down below 1,000 feet and followed the railroad tracks. His partner sat in the nose section and would yell, "TUNNEL" when he saw one and Lacey would climb over the mountain. They flew low enough to use street signs to guide them to Oregon.

But being on the ground in Oregon still wasn't all the way to his gas station. They dismantled the plane and loaded it up on trucks to take to the station, but couldn't get the city permits to take it onto the road. Art was too far into the project, and into debt, to give up at this point

"So he hired a motorcycle escort for funerals," said Punky. "And the guys are in black leather and they put him out in front in the middle of the night and had two teenagers ride along with him. And he told them 'now if the police show up you burn rubber in another direction and they'll follow you.' And he told the trucking drivers 'you just keep going. I'll pay any tickets, just keep on going and don't let them stop you.' "

"The Oregon Journal wrote up an article saying something to the effect of 'local government tries to keep bomber from final resting place.' This was right after World War II, so patriotism was running pretty high. So they ended up fining him $10 for doing what he shouldn't have done."

Art Lacey was one of those larger than life characters that came along in the America I grew up in.  There's more at the KATU.com story, including an effort to rescue the old bomber, now falling apart with age.  It's a fun story to read. 


4 comments:

Jeffersonian said...

Recent photographs:

http://jeffersonian.therealgunguys.com/lacey/lacey.html

Graybeard said...

Thanks for the updated pictures. Cool, yet kind of sad to see her condition.

FWIW, the link back to your home page at the bottom didn't work.

RabidAlien said...

Ate at the restaurant back in '07 when the wife and I were up there on vacation. It was sad to see the old bird in the state she was in, but also good to hear they were working on restoration. Hope to get back there sometime soon!

Jeffersonian said...

Just tested it, seems to work fine. Also try:

http://jeffersonian.name

which should redirect.